Sunday, November 15, 2020

"What Are They Really Like?"

Periodically, Rush fans reach out to me on social media, and I always try to respond. Some of them seem to only want to thank me, or to express their love of this band that changed so many people's lives. But every now and then, someone asks me a specific question about Alex or Geddy or Neil-- does Geddy have a favorite song out of all the ones Rush sang over the years; or what did the other two guys think of Alex's "blah-blah-blah" speech at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; or why wasn't Neil at the vast majority of the meet-and-greets over the years.  

Sometimes, I know the answer, especially if one of the guys expressed an opinion (I do know the back-story to the blah-blah-blah speech, and I do know why Neil avoided meet-and-greets).  And sometimes, I have no idea but can make an educated guess (I don't think Geddy has ever had one favorite Rush song; but I'm sure that the band got tired of playing certain songs, and like most bands, they retired some of them and reintroduced others over the years, just to give the fans some variety).

But the most common question I get asked is a version of "What are they really like?" It's an interesting question. I spent four decades in broadcasting, and during that time, I met a lot of celebrities and stars-- Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac, Madonna, Dolly Parton, Bob Seger, Garth Brooks, Linda Ronstadt, Charlie Daniels, ZZ Top, Dr. Hook, and many others. My interactions with them were usually brief: in radio back then, the record companies would often bring the performers around for deejays at major stations to meet. I generally got to say hello and maybe exchange a few words before the record promoter interrupted and took the person to say "hi" to some other people.  Some of the performers were very friendly and seemed happy to meet me (and the others at my station). Others treated it like a chore or acted like they were doing us a big favor just being there. 

In a very few cases, I actually got some time to have a conversation before the performer had to move on.  I had a very pleasant chat with Bruce Springsteen (we shared an orange juice), and an equally pleasant one with Frank Beard of ZZ Top (he asked me out...I politely said 'no').  I also had some wonderful conversations with jazz musicians like Phil Woods (he did the sax solo on Billy Joel's pop hit "Just the Way You Are") when I worked at WRVR in New York, a jazz station. I could drop a few more names, but my point is that while I have a lot of good memories, I don't know how to answer the question about what any of them were "really" like.

All I can say is that at a certain time, under certain conditions, I had the privilege of being in the same room, or at the same party, or perhaps I was doing an interview; but in all cases, the context was that I was a radio deejay and music director, and the performer was there to promote a new album or make an appearance as part of some event the record company arranged. And yes, it was exciting for me, a working-class kid who had often been told she'd never be anything in life, to be hanging with the rich and famous, even briefly. 

So, I do understand why fans ask what some famous person is really like. We see these folks on TV or read about them, or maybe go to a concert and watch them perform. But we rarely get the chance to spend time with them, away from work. Given that many of us don't get to meet our favorites celebrities, or perhaps we only see them briefly and get an autograph, we imagine what they must be like, and when we find someone who actually knows them, we just have to ask. (I admit I've done this myself over the years.)

But in the case of Rush, I can give you an answer.  I'm fortunate that they've kept in touch over the years (and so have the folks at their management company), even though we're no longer colleagues in the music business. That in itself is unusual: normally, when you're in media, relationships can be transactional. You need something from them, or they need something from you. But in a very few cases, there is no agenda, just some nice people who want to keep in touch because that's what nice people do. What are Rush "really" like? Based on my experience over the decades, they truly are nice people; and as I've said many times, success has never spoiled them. And while I can't say what every famous person I've met is really like, I can say with certainty that the members of Rush are in fact wonderful to know, and I consider it an honor to know them.


  1. Thank you Donna for a most honest answer to an almost unanswerable question. I formed a Northeast based fan club for Rush in 1977 when I was 15 years old before their management company had done much merchandising or even promotion of Rush in the US. When the band got wind of it I was able to meet them backstage at the Pittsburgh show in 1979. Geddy humored me and my teenage friends (fellow fan club "Board" members))much longer than he had to. Alex was friendly as well and Neil just nodded from the back of the room. It is a memory I will cherish forever. Thanks for reminding me!

  2. Donna, I love reading your blog posts. You are a great writer, and I always have your voice in my head when I read your articles. To me, you are Rush's mom, and we are so grateful to you for doing what you did to help them get their music out. Cheers, and stay safe!

  3. Thank you, Donna. I'm honored to have been listening when you were at WMMS.

  4. Rush paid you a wonderful tribute with the 40th anniversary video for "Spirit of Radio."


  5. What matters most is that we all love their music. It's a testament to their work ethic and their sense of humor that they went on for so long together. Few bands ever realize this kind of history. You are a herald for their musical legacy and we all appreciate your willingness to share your memories with us.